Battle of Warbonnet Creek

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Battle of Warbonnet Creek
Part of the Great Sioux War of 1876
Date July 17, 1876
Location Sioux County, Nebraska
Result United States victory
Cheyenne  United States
Commanders and leaders
Little Wolf United States Wesley Merritt
~200-300 ~350
Casualties and losses
1 killed
unknown wounded

The Battle of Warbonnet Creek was a skirmish characterized by a duel between "Buffalo Bill" Cody and a young Cheyenne warrior named Heova'ehe or Yellow Hair (often incorrectly translated as "Yellow Hand").[1] The engagement is often referred to as the First Scalp for Custer because of this incident. It occurred July 17, 1876, in Sioux County in northwestern Nebraska.


After the defeat of George A. Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn, many Native Americans joined with Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, encouraged by the Indians' success. About 200-300 Cheyenne warriors led by Morning Star (also known as Dull Knife) set out with their families from the Spotted Tail and Red Cloud agencies in Nebraska.

The United States Army had sent the U.S. 5th Cavalry Regiment, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Eugene Asa Carr, from Oklahoma to a position on the Cheyenne River in South Dakota to guard against such an occurrence. Carr was replaced in command on July 1 by Colonel Wesley Merritt, and when news of the Battle of the Little Big Horn reached General George Crook on July 5, the 5th Cavalry was ordered to reinforce Crook on Goose Creek in Wyoming.


Word of the breakout of the Cheyenne also reached Merritt, and guided by "Buffalo Bill" Cody, Merritt was able to intercept the Cheyenne warriors.

Marker at Warbonnet Creek site

Merritt planned an ambush. He hid most of his 350 troopers inside covered wagons and posted sharpshooters nearby out of sight. Spotting Merritt's seemingly unescorted wagon train along Warbonnet Creek, a small war party of six Cheyenne warriors charged directly into the trap to divert attention from the main body of Cheyenne.

A few warriors were wounded by the troopers, but the only real action of the engagement was a "duel" between Buffalo Bill and Yellow Hair. Cody pulled his Winchester carbine and killed the Indian, then pulled out a Bowie knife and scalped him.

The main body of warriors attempted to rescue the small war party, but fled so quickly after seeing the true strength of the U.S. forces that not a single trooper was killed or injured.


Merritt joined Crook, whose expedition later joined with that of General Alfred H. Terry, bringing the combined strength of the U.S. force to about 4,000.

Ever the showman, Buffalo Bill returned to the stage in October, his show highlighted by a melodramatic reenactment of his duel with Yellow Hair. He displayed the fallen warrior's scalp, feather war bonnet, knife, saddle and other personal effects.[2]


  1. ^ Apparently[weasel words] not the same Yellow Hair as the brother of Wooden Leg, who was killed while on a hunting trip the following year. - Marquis, Thomas B. (translator); Wooden Leg (2003). Wooden Leg: A Warrior Who Fought Custer. University of Nebraska Press. pp. chap. 13. ISBN 0-8032-8288-5. 
  2. ^ Cold Spots - Hat Creek Battlefield[unreliable source?]

See also[edit]

Other References[edit]

  • Dillon, Richard H. (1983). North American Indian Wars.
    • Greene, Jerome A. "Lakota and Cheyenne: Indian Views of the Great Sioux War, 1876-1877"

Finerty, John F. (1890) "War-Path and Bivouac"

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 42°55′40″N 103°43′47″W / 42.92778°N 103.72972°W / 42.92778; -103.72972